The best “I need to baby-proof” story I’ve ever heard comes from a friend-of-a-friend who left her two year-old son playing quietly in the living room to quickly take something out to the garage. She returned a few minutes later to discover he had crawled to the kitchen, pulled a chair over to the counter, climbed up, reached a top shelf where a box of markers were stored, taken off all his clothes and diaper, and was coloring his scrotum with a Sharpie.
In the online marriage advice community, you sometimes hear a call for “baby-proofing” your marriage, as well as your house. I’ve been giving this some thought, and here’s the conclusion I’ve come to: the best advice for baby-proofing your marriage is really relevant whether or not you have young kids, or any kids at all.
So here are my top four baby-proofing tips, all of which have are drawn from well documented research by the experts. I’m also including a lot of references to other entries about the topics:
1) Figure out how you’re going to divvy up housework, make sure it feels fair (even if it’s not 50/50), and check in regularly to make sure you’re partner still feels good about the arrangement.
Researchers routinely report that women are, or feel like they are, carrying a bigger housework burden – even when they work full time outside the home. For women, this can be a major source of marital dissatisfaction, especially after having kids.
Figuring out how to share housework can have big benefits (like more sex). Read about it here:
2) Make time together sacred. Make time apart sacred.
You’re probably not surprised to see “make time together” as a top tip. Date Nights have been standard marital advice since I was a kid. But date nights aren’t always practical, so figure out how to carve a few minutes out of your day for each other, without the kids.
Cliff and I used to take a drink to the back porch after the kids went to bed, and talk for 20 minutes or so. (This sounds terribly romantic, until you realize that our back porch faces an alley, and we have a car wash as neighbors.)
But time together also means being fully present when you’re in the same room. Cliff wrote about this in regards to how smartphones keep us from real conversation:
Time apart may be almost as important as time together. Being an individual is an important part of being a couple. Here are two earlier entries on the value of individual hobbies, and the importance of friendship outside marriage.
3) Actively work to see your spouse as something more than a parent.
We’ve all heard the horror stories of couples who, facing a newly empty nest, found they no longer had anything to talk about. My as-of-yet unproven theory (which happens to align with all the women’s magazine articles I’ve read over the years) is that the antidote to this is maintaining your marital friendship all along.
To do this, you have to be committed to seeing your partner as more than a parent. You have to take interest in his hobby of writing plays, or her hobby of blogging about marriage, for example.
Research has my back on this one. Science says that happy marriages happen when you continue growing as an individual (see above). This means pursuing dreams, learning new things, looking for adventures. There’s actually a research-based quiz you can take to learn your own relationship’s capacity for self-expansion. Read more and check it out here:
4) Talk good about your partner.
Nothing feels better than overhearing your partner talking good about you. So tell his mom what a great father he is. Tell your wife how amazing it was that she landed the big client the same week she coached little league soccer to their first win. Thank your husband for putting the laundry in the washing machine, or for saving the last slice of chocolate cake. Tell the neighbors about her amazing cookies. If he has a nice ass, tell your girlfriends.
We’ve not really written on the importance of this before, perhaps because it goes without saying. It is a bit obvious, but it’s also often forgotten.
One thing science says is that it takes a lot of positive comments to overcome the impact of one negative comment. The actual ratio is a bit fuzzy – somewhere between 6:1 and 12:1 is what I most often hear. So go out of your way to find things to compliment – it’s one of the best possible ways to say I love you.
And since I don’t have a link to share about this, I’ll share a link to a video that shows another great way of saying I love you: by doing something unexpected as a tribute to your spouse. Watch this for a good laugh: